SRAM

Posted in Feature on January 2, 2017

By Ken Nagle

Ken Nagle was a finalist in the first Great Designer Search and joined Wizards of the Coast as a design intern. He has since gone on to work on twelve Magic expansions, including four of which he led, as well as leading the design of Archenemy and the first Commander decks.

Aether Revolt is almost upon us. All the wondrous inventions of the Inventors' Fair have caught the eye of the Consulate Consortium.

Their evil eye.

The sublime inventions might be better utilized serving a higher power. After all, why waste time reinventing the wheel? In Magic, that idiomatic metaphor might be more appropriately called "reinventing the Ornithopter."

We're about to go from a place of bright optimism to a place of fevered revolt.

Normally, the lead designer authors the design feature article during their set's preview season. Mark Gottlieb is the lead designer of Aether Revolt. Mark Gottlieb is also my boss (I had to interview him for the job of "my boss"). As my boss, he bossed me into writing this article. Why? I have a theory.

Gottlieb wants to steal it and publish it as if it were his own. Mark Gottlieb is behaving just like Tezzeret, the high judge of the Inventors' Fair, member of the Consulate Consortium, and an Agent of Bolas.

In my humble, subservient opinion, Mark Gottlieb is taking this "method designing" a bit too far. But I'll get him back. Have you ever done something your boss told you, then not shown the results until it's too late for them to change it?

Here we go.

SRAM

The connection between my two Aether Revolt preview cards is SRAM. "What is SRAM?" you ask?

SRAM is an acronym for static random access memory—the kind that can store CPU cache. An old-school Nintendo Entertainment System contains a 2048-byte SRAM holding nametables and attribute values.

This is the kind of thing I studied in the Operating Systems program at Mississippi State University. There must be a similar curriculum being taught at the inquiriums on Kaladesh. In particular, there's a new kind of SRAM in Aether Revolt. As with most new technologies, Magic's version of SRAM offers great benefits if connected to the right enablers and the game plan is executed properly:

Sram, Senior Edificer

 

However, instead of a faster retrieval of instructions and data addresses, Aether Revolt's Sram, Senior Edificer offers faster access to the top card of your library than the core once-per-turn rule. In fact, if your entire library is composed of these technologically advanced subsets of artifacts and enchantments, your gameplay becomes much like serialized opcodes where your limitation is mana as opposed to clock speed.

Mechanically speaking, Sram is a strong reward for playing a deck full of Equipment, Auras, and/or Vehicles. Being a legendary creature, he gives strong definition to a mono-white Commander deck with a card-drawing reward for "creature enhancers." We sometimes call cards like Sram, Senior Artificer "SimCity" cards because the goal is to "build up" your side of the table with more and better permanents, not necessarily interacting with the opponent or paying particularly close attention to their side of the table.

An Aside on White Card Drawing

Sram, Senior Edificer was relatively controversial internally. Mark Rosewater, who eats color pie for breakfast, speaks up loudly whenever we write "Draw X cards" on a white card. White, given its penchant for tradition, rules, and the status quo, is supposed to be the worst color at card drawing (we've given red "rummaging," "impulsive draw," and Magus of the Wheel, but still almost nothing to white). Card drawing abilities on white cards like Sram, Senior Edificer challenge that assertion.

On the other hand, Magic already has other white cards that reward the "augmenting" subclasses like Aura and Equipment with card drawing:

If we give white strong small creatures, strong token generation, strong Angels, strong answer cards like board sweepers, and strong card drawing, then there's a real danger that white stops having any weaknesses. There's no need to play blue cards in your white-based control deck.

To better illustrate this "white card drawing is the devil" point, here's an insider story on another "white card drawing" card. Do you remember this card from Commander (2015 Edition)?

Sandstone Oracle is a Sphinx that casts the blue spell Balance of Power.

While Sandstone Oracle is great in a Rakdos, Lord of Riots Commander deck, originally it wasn't an option. Why? Sandstone Oracle started as a semi-top-down white Angel designed to fit this artwork by Tyler Jacobson:

The "balancing" cards part of the design fit the artwork. The goal of the design was to shore up white's "card advantage problem" in Commander by drawing cards "in a white way." Surely, "balance" and "equality for all" are white precepts. After all, white is supposed to be the best at this kind of thing, so sayeth Timely Reinforcements (my design):

Timely Reinforcements deals with life and token creatures, which we've decided are central to white. Perhaps drawing cards is just another resource to balance? Old-school Balance made players discard cards, right?

Everything's fair and square if we have the same number of things, right? Including cards in hand?

Wrong—so sayeth the Rosewater. The proposed "Sandstone Oracle Angel" is too much universally applicable card drawing for a white card.

Since you can plainly see the new Aether Revolt card Sram, Senior Edificer in this "white card draw" design space of Mark Rosewater–forbidden mechanics...why the change of heart?

We've decided that white card drawing is okay only in narrow circumstances. Moreover, you need to build your white deck in a way that it's still playing into white's strengths.

Sure, you can cleverly build a "control" Sram deck full of cards like these:

I'm guilty of this "white card drawing for removal spells" sin myself. Three Dreams is intended for positive Aura-buffing kinds of decks. However, in my Uril, the Miststalker Commander deck, I usually cast Three Dreams to find Chained to the Rocks, Song of the Dryads, and maybe Vow of Duty.

The reason I do this is the axiom that the fewer removal spells you cast, the more impactful each one is. The same would be true for the first universal white card drawing spell, and even a white Mana Leak for white aggro decks.

At the end of the day, we've decided that a high-density linear Auras, Equipment, and Vehicles deck is so squarely in white's color pie that we're willing to let you draw cards if you build it.

Edifice – n. A Large, Imposing Building

Sram's "title" is senior edificer.

Many of Kaladesh's cities, including Ghirapur, function as massive, intricate machines that require expert planning to construct and maintain. Dwarves specializing in maintenance of artifice on a such a grand scale are known as edificers. Because edificers work on such a macro scale, they use the heaviest machinery (i.e. Equipment, Auras, and Vehicles all together).

Sram, the senior edificer, must ensure the harmony of countless moving parts that make up the city's intricate infrastructure. Epitomizing the motto "Think bigger," no part of the city can be left to languish without risking the entire system breaking apart.

He's always seen with a slender, delicate gearcrafter's tool of vedalken design hanging out of his mouth. When asked about it, Sram once replied, "It is important to always have the right tool for the job. This one is for picking my teeth."

Expertise in Civil Engineering

We've established that Sram is an expert at the innerworkings of city infrastructure. It would great if we could somehow bottle up and capture that kind of expertise to use anywhere a city might need it—even here in the real world on Earth.

This brings me to my next preview card:

The "expertise" part of the card is a cycle I proposed in design. Since we want players to "feel like inventors," I pitched this idea to combine two spells together. You didn't need energy or artifacts to make it work, either, so it's more backward compatible than some other inventor-feeling mechanics in the set. My proposed card was a 3WW "Destroy all creatures" with a free four-drop...but at some point Fumigate became a powerful 3WW white sweeper in Kaladesh. Inevitably, one card per cycle ends up making tokens, so this time we're making Servos to no doubt perform some civil engineering tasks.

You get bonus flavor points if you cast Sram's Expertise then cast Sram, Senior Edificer for free. Lead Editor Del Laugel made sure each card in the Expertise cycle can cast its respective legendary creature.

So, there you have it—the expertise of Sram all in one card. Whenever you want to better your city's infrastructure with the help of a senior edificer and some Servos, look no further than Sram's Expertise.

It's Time to Take the Power Back

I hope you've enjoyed my unsupervised Aether Revolt preview article. Today we learned about the character Sram, white card drawing, the Expertise cycle, and static random access memory. If that's not enough Aether Revolt for you and you're thirsty for more, use the store locator to find an Aether Revolt Prerelease near you on January 14–15.

Until next time, may your Magic card combos showcase your expertise.

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